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Exploring the PGA Tour's top basketball talent

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LOS ANGELES – Bubba Watson completed his second-round 70 at the Genesis Open and bolted Riviera Country Club in search of a rare daily double – a spot near the top of a PGA Tour leaderboard and MVP honors at the annual NBA All-Star Celebrity Game.

“I wasn't very good at dribbling [in high school] so I definitely didn't dribble it up,” Watson smiled as he rushed off property just three strokes off the lead to participate in the annual celebrity game, which was played at the Verizon Up Arena at the Los Angeles Convention Center as part of NBA All-Star weekend. “I just played outside, played on the wing, tried to shoot 3-pointers. I can shoot, I have a little bit of touch. So it worked out when I was in high school. When I say ‘worked out,’ I made one out of 20.”

Although Watson certainly qualifies as a celebrity and is married to a former WNBA player, with apologies to the 6-foot-3 southpaw, there was a real sense that golf wasn’t exactly sending its best to the celebrity game - at least according to the results of a wildly unofficial Twitter poll.

Early Friday, your scribe offered his version of the PGA Tour’s all-hoops team – a squad that included Watson, Dustin Johnson, Gary Woodland, Jordan Spieth and Chris Wood – but the reaction from many of the circuit’s best and brightest painted a much different picture.

Smylie Kaufman, who was the point guard on his state high school championship basketball team during his junior year in 2009, was one of the first to offer his services at point guard before allowing, “[Jordan Spieth] and I have epic games of H.O.R.S.E. Usually he makes a ridiculous shot to win. Weird.”

Chesson Hadley, a 6-foot-4 player with some reach, also got into the act: “I certainly have the height to play but would probably be dominated in the paint. I’d like to be considered for the guy that runs the bench celebrations.”

It turns out the depth of basketball talent runs much deeper than one might expect on Tour.

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Although Johnson, who declined an offer to play in Friday’s celebrity game, can still dunk, and at 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, would be a natural swingman; and Woodland, who set a 3-point shooting record as a freshman at Washburn (Kan.) University before transferring to Kansas to play golf, were easy early picks, Tony Finau might be golf’s best.

“We’d have a pretty mean team, not a lot of height but we’d have a solid top 5,” said Finau, who added that he plays pickup basketball three to four times a week in the offseason and can still throw down two-handed dunks.

Finau, who is also in contention at Riviera following a second-round 71, played center in high school and helped his team reach the state tournament his junior and senior seasons, averaging 11 rebounds per game as a senior.

“Have to throw Finau and [Andrew] Loupe in there. [Kaufman] can get buckets, too,” Thomas tweeted.

Harris English echoed that endorsement, “[Russell] Henley and Loupe need to be in that lineup.” While Ricky Barnes made his own pitch, “I must be a reserve but I will play my way into the lineup soon.”

It turns out that Loupe is something of a sneaky good option in any all-hoops Tour draft as evidenced by Harold Varner III’s offer to coach the team.

“I would love to coach, it would be awesome,” Varner smiled before his second round at Riviera. “Already have my first pick, Tony [Finau]. Second pick would be tough, probably DJ, but Loupe is good, man.”

Loupe earned all-state basketball honors in Louisiana twice and was invited to the Louisiana All-Star game, averaging 21.6 points per game during his senior season and setting his high school’s all-time record for 3-pointers in a season.

Spieth, who reportedly has some legitimate shooting range and whose brother, Steven, plays professional basketball in Argentina, would be a popular pick, but the social media scouting report suggests he may be better suited coming off the bench.

According to various sources, Henley is a pure shooter and would likely be the sixth man; while 6-foot-4 Jamie Lovemark – who is also in the top 10 through 36 holes at the Genesis Open – was a popular choice to replace Wood, who at 6-foot-5 is the Tour’s tallest player but doesn’t appear to have much experience on the hardwood having grown up in England.

While there seems to be no shortage of talent to represent golf on the NBA’s most star-studded stage, it will be Watson who received the nod for Friday’s celebrity bout. Although he may not top the list of Tour ballers, he did get one piece of solid advice from his wife, Angie.

“She said, ‘Don't get hurt,’” Watson smiled. “She said, ‘If you go in the paint, you're in trouble.’ I was a Ryder Cup vice captain [in 2016], that's what I enjoyed, so I'm not afraid to give an assist. I'm scared of shooting. I'll just pass it real fast.”